Go Topless

Earlier this year we paid homage to a movement known as Free the Nipple, which is gaining traction as more and more disenfranchised women push to relinquish practices that unlawfully restrict their rights to go topless in public. If it’s legal (in the state), and men can, then why shouldn’t women be able to?

Aug 23 (a date that also commemorates the 95th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day) marked the eighth annual GoTopless Pride Parade–an event which took place in over 60 cities worldwide courtesy of GoTopless.org. It’s an organization intent on bringing awareness to the movement through active participation in public demonstration.

BTR talks with Free the Nipple freedom fighter Rachel Jessee. She’s an actress, model, performer, and NYC’s GoTopless spokeswoman. She shares her experience from the NYC parade and some insights into how we can all do our part to spread more awareness.

BreakThru Radio (BTR): Aug 23 honored the 95th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, and GoTopless ran a topless parade in NYC. How was the turnout?

Rachel Jessee (RJ): We had a great turnout this year; it’s the eighth year now that we’ve been doing the GoTopless event in NYC. Every time we do it, attendance grows. This time in particular it got a lot of attention because the mayor and governor of New York have talked about cracking down on the women in Times Square who take pictures with people topless. There [are] lots of characters dressed up–superheroes, that kind of attraction in Times Square–of course tourists tip them. It’s legal to be topless in New York, so young women have capitalized on that and got the idea to paint themselves up with body paint (American flag design) and take pictures with people.

Now the governor and mayor are talking about coming down on that. It was happening right around the same time as the parade, while we were advocating for equality for women.

BTR: It seems like although it’s legal, not a lot of New Yorkers actually know it.

RJ: Exactly. Largely it’s about spreading awareness that it is legal, but also for states and cities where it isn’t the parade is still happening. Of course, there the women have to cover themselves. But we still want to get the message out there, so that people can be more open minded to this and look at their conditioning and comfort levels and really open up to the idea that it is okay for a woman to be topless. They shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed, or that their children are in danger… [Laughs]

BTR: Danger? Really? Do you meet a lot of people who feel this way?

RJ: It always makes me laugh, but we do get that a lot. But it helps that we got a great turnout this year, even a lot more people from out of town than we’re used to. Of course there’s a lot of media too, but we just try and get as many male and female participants as possible.

BTR: How does a political figure like Mayor Bill de Blasio even get away with putting restrictions on these women in Times Square? As you said, it’s not like he even has the law on his side.

RJ: You know, I’ve asked the exact same question myself! I don’t know how they’re able to circumvent the law. It seems that if they were to come down on the topless women they would have to come down on everyone who is taking pictures with the tourists in Times Square, [either] Hello Kitty in full costume or Spiderman or whoever. If they do it to one person, they have to do it to everybody. Or if it’s simply because they’re topless, then they would have to be told the law all together. I really don’t know how they would do it.

BTR: When a lot of people think of women going topless in a city they think of it as indecency, or something very sexual. But women’s breasts aren’t inherently sexual by nature.

RJ: Certainly it’s something we’ve learned. If you look at other cultures where women are topless everyday I’m sure they don’t look at them in the same sexualized way that we do. Every person is different. I may find the lips to be sexual; others might find the butt, or the feet [to be sexual]. Who knows?

I don’t think it’s correct to say that it’s not sexual though, but it has been over-sexualized. It really shouldn’t be separated from all of the other things that we find attractive in a human being. The fact that we’ve singled this one thing out does seem a bit ridiculous.

BTR: I’ve read you talk with neuroscientists, like Dr. Marcus Wenner, who also weigh in on the equal rights of women to bare their chests. What are some of the things they say that, neurologically-speaking, could bring an equality to both?

RJ: That boils down to ideas of compassion. If we can be compassionate towards others it significantly affects our bodies and our minds. Even if we aren’t aware of it, it’s working on a subconscious level. Compassion is huge. It can change so many of our foundations.

BTR: Going back to the roots of GoTopless, tell me a little bit about the spiritual inspiration behind the organization.

RJ: We have a new affiliate to help bring awareness towards the cause. One of the main principles and philosophies of the Raelian Movement is self love, and a great way to express that and to push the boundaries is to go topless. There are a lot of young women, especially in the United States, that have very low self-esteem and are ashamed of their bodies. We’ve been taught that we need to cover ourselves and hide ourselves.

Of course this conditioning–if you look back on history, in the 1920s it was considered very risque for a woman to show her ankles or knees. We’ve clearly made some progress since then, but we need to take it a step forward and really look at how we criminalize women, because if a woman can’t breast-feed her baby in public–and if she gets fined and criminalized for that–we need to question it.

BTR: It begins as a personal step before it can be brought to the community.

RJ: We need to look into ourselves and ask, “Am I uncomfortable to see a naked person? And why is that?” Do we have fear, do we have shame, and do we have guilt? We can’t bring peace to the people close to us, expand it to our communities and ultimately to the world, if we can’t first be comfortable with ourselves.

To hear the rest of our interview with Rachel Jessee, tune into this week’s episode of Third Eye Weekly.